SDG 2Zero hunger
Can we end hunger on our planet? Food sovereignty, improved nutrition, and sustainable agriculture.
Despite the progress of our civilisation, every ninth person suffers from malnutrition, 795 million people in total. The situation is worst in developing countries, where as many as one in four suffer from malnutrition. Malnutrition causes almost half of the deaths of children under five. Food shortage causes other problems in society. If there is no food, the inhabitants start migrating, which can lead to a migration crisis. There is also the risk of wars over resources.
The food issue is further exacerbated by the ever-expanding human population and climate change. Unless we can adapt to the changes, find new food sources, change our eating habits, or grow climate-resilient crops, an increasing percentage of the world’s population might suffer from hunger or malnutrition.
Solution and Key Innovations
In order to feed the ever-increasing population, agricultural production must be radically increased. Simultaneously, distribution must be improved and food waste prevented. According to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization, each EU citizen throws away an average of 180 kg of food a year. In total, around 1.3 billion tonnes of food ends up as waste each year. In other words, we throw away a full third of the food that is produced every year. It is, therefore, up to each one of us to try and improve our approach to food.
The food situation of the Earth’s population is largely influenced by the climate. Global warming is a fact that has a significant impact on agriculture and food production. Growing more resilient food through genetic modification may be a way of eliminating the effects of climate change.
Plants are being studied for example at The Central European Institute of Technology (CEITEC). Their research focuses on the aforementioned genetic modification of plants (GMOs). In this respect, the EU is one of the few regions where the genetic modification of plants is subject to very strict legislation. This situation causes sharp controversy among the representatives of the biotechnological, pharmaceutical, and agricultural industries. According to the proponents of genetic modification of plants, there is a risk that if Europe does not back down from restrictive measures and does not allow GMOs, it will be overtaken by countries where GMOs are allowed or subject to less stringent legislation.
The impetus for Europe’s approach to genetic engineering was the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020. It was awarded to the American scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna for the development of the CRISPR/Cas9 method, i.e., the molecular genetic scissors for genome modification. This system represents a universal way to change the DNA of plants, animals, or microorganisms with very high precision.
Adopting a plant-based diet can also be a way of eating better and more sustainably. Meat substitutes are currently being developed by a number of companies. There are a number of substitutes available that taste almost like real meat but are made from vegetables and legumes. Scientists are also trying to ‚grow‘ meat in the laboratory from a sample of real meat. The laboratory method of meat production involves taking some of the animals‘ stem tissue and culturing the cells to grow outside the animals‘ bodies. The first test-tube hamburger was created by the Dutch biologist Mark Post in 2013.
The Israeli start up Aleph Farms is aiming high in this regard – they want to produce fresh meat in places where cattle cannot be raised, including space. In 2019, Aleph Farms together with the Russian 3D Bioprinting Solutions successfully carried out the first experiment aboard the International Space Station (ISS, the Earth’s only permanent space mission). In the experiment, a 3D bioprinter assembled a small piece of muscle tissue out of animal (beef) cells.
People should focus on non-conventional food sources, too. These include insects, for example, the consumption of which might be considered a fad rather than proper food source by many of us. Insects are, however, a nutritionally valuable food source. The researchers from the Czech University of Agriculture work on new strategies to increase the nutritional value and durability of insects by lactic acid fermentation.
New food sources research also resonates in Helsinki, Finland. The researchers there have conducted a study that offers an overview of circular economy, alternative technology (cellular farming) and new food sources, such as microalgae, insects or even wood fibres.
A problematic aspect of food alternatives is the mental barrier. The challenge for the future is clear: how – if at all – can these barriers be overcome? As for insects, the mental barrier is obvious – a large portion of the population is simply not used to eating insects and are averse to it. A way to overcome this issue might be, according to researchers, to make insects nonrecognizable in dishes.
We might experience a mental barrier to eating lab-grown meat – some people do not trust anything lab-made, while others might struggle with lowering their meat consumption simply because they are used to eating meat daily.
- Will we manage to increase agricultural production in order to feed the ever-increasing population?
- Can the richer part of the world stop wasting food?
- How will climate change affect food production?
- Will Europe open up to genetic modification of crops?
- Which new food sources will be used in the future?
Hunger, food sovereignty, climate change, plant-based diet, genetic modification of plants, GMOs
- Researchers from the Czech University of Agriculture are developing new strategies to increase the nutritional value of insects
- A study suggesting that about one-third of the food produced for human consumption globally goes to waste, amounting to about 1.3 billion tonnes per year
- Finnish Study: Insight on Current Advances in Food Science and Technology for Feeding the World Population
- Singapore approves lab-grown ‚chicken‘ meat
- Potential of Insects as Food and Feed in Assuring Food Security